Vermont Business Magazine Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Thursday notched key victories for Vermont as the Agriculture and Energy and Water appropriations bills cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee. Leahy’s wins include securing $499 million over 10 years to strengthen the safety network for dairy farmers, including the dairy Margin Protection Program. Other Vermont-related features of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill approved Thursday by the committee include a $3 million increase for the National Organic Program, bringing total funding for the program to $12.1 million.
Leahy, the “father” of the national organics program, authored the organic standards and labeling program during his chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Since then organic agriculture has grown to a $40 billion industry nationally and continues to grow across Vermont. The increase in funding will protect the value of the USDA organic seal and ensure that consumers can remain confident in the integrity of organic products as the industry continues to grow.
Leahy said: “This legislation rejects the majority of President Trump’s dangerous and unbalanced priorities and makes valuable investments in organic agriculture, dairy and rural communities like the Northeast Kingdom. But this is still not sufficient, and I look forward to continuing to ensure that Vermont’s voice is heard in the appropriations process.”
The Appropriations Committee also rejected the Trump administration’s shortsighted proposal to eliminate the Norther Border Regional Commission (NBRC) and increased its funding by $5 million to $15 million. The program provides funding for development in economically distressed Northern Border counties in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York. The NBRC is estimated to have saved or created thousands of jobs by leveraging federal funds with other public or private investments.
The Committee maintained support for the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone program, which promotes revitalization and community development in rural communities, like the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. The Northeast Kingdom’s REAP Zone is one of only three in the nation and was established and subsequently renewed under earlier Leahy-led initiatives. The NEK REAP Zone has been the key to securing ongoing investments in collaborative and citizen-led efforts to strengthen economic development.
The package makes significant updates to the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers that will improve the program’s effectiveness and offer greater incentives to farmers to participate in the insurance program and select higher more meaningful levels of protection. Making these changes now rather than waiting for the Farm Bill next year allows USDA to implement these changes for a portion of the 2018 calendar year. If dairy farmers are forced to wait until the Farm Bill expiration next fall, it is unlikely that the USDA would be able to implement any of these greatly needed changes until 2020.
Leahy said: “These are crucial investments for dairy farmers who should not have to suffer through yet another year of a risk management program that falls short of providing an effective farm safety net. I was pleased to work with Chairman Cochran to address issues that are so important to producers in both of our states and that have the support of both the dairy and cotton sectors. I am hopeful that we can move forward from this starting point and first step, to reach a final bipartisan agreement that delivers an effective farm safety net to our nation’s dairy farmers and cotton producers.”
The Leahy-led dairy provisions make five specific changes:
- Moves the Margin Protection Program (MPP) calculations and potential payments to a monthly basis (currently bimonthly) to improve the program’s accuracy and timeliness in responding to market conditions.
- Dramatically reduces the premium costs for Tier I enrollment to incentivize producer participation at meaningful coverage levels of protection.
- Adjusts the Tier I threshold level corresponding to substantially lower premium costs, to the first 5 million pounds of production, up from the current level of 4 million pounds of production (equivalent to 185 cows). This will better align the program with the median U.S. dairy farm size, 223 cows, and encourage more farms to participate and secure meaningful levels of protection to offer an effective farm safety net.
- Waives $100 administrative fees for underserved producers, bringing the program in line with other USDA programs with similar service fee waiver, such as the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP).
- Continues the program’s current regulation offering farmers a one-time election to participate in the program for the length of the Farm Bill.
Source: WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, July 20, 2017) -- Leahy